Marilyn Manson in 2017 is not for disaffected white kids. The opening night of his Heaven Upside Down tour pulled a diverse crowd of people aged from 15 to 50 in black t-shirts and black dresses. But not just white kids. Marilyn Manson in 2017 is a coat of many colors. Many different shades of black.
Manson is enjoying a quiet renaissance. He’s got a new record coming out in October, somewhat current controversy related to The Donald (last fall he released a video that featured a beheaded man in a blue suit and red tie) and is promoted, through merch, by Justin Bieber. He still has great taste. His stage and look is modern, his opener is on the cusp of more big things and he’s cognizant the role Columbine played in his career. He’s a student of history and artist. But he’s not using all his tools.
There are a few camps of Marilyn Manson fans. I’m in the group that believes Mechanical Animals is his best work. I understand the first few records but only hear a Nine Inch Nails meets White Zombie imitation. Subsequent releases have been somewhat disappointing but expected, with a few great songs packaged with a bunch of fine tracks. Most artists can’t create a new persona with each release. Nevertheless, Manson, a former journalist and big fan of David Bowie, knows his place in the pop canon. And he’s playing that role rather than expanding.
Marilyn Manson does not need to play the role of “Marilyn Manson” the same way David Bowie did not need to play the role of “Ziggy Stardust.” Mechanical Animals proved that. Guest roles on Sons of Anarchy and Eastbound & Down proved that. His successful painting career proved that. Yet he’s still making the same angry noise.
The most successful performance on the tour’s opening night was one of the newest song on the set list, 2017’s “We Know Where You Fucking Live.” The first single from Manson’s upcoming album Heaven Upside Down was met with a warm reception. Most everyone on the floor knew at least the chorus to the song that was released just a few weeks prior. Another highlight was “KILL4ME,” the second single from the upcoming album that was just released last week. But unlike “We Know Where You Fucking Live,” the live version isn’t as strong as the album recording.
“KILL4ME” is a more nuanced song than “We Know Where You Fucking Live.” In a live setting, “We Know Where You Fucking Live” is pounded out with anger and fury that suits the song. “KILL4ME” live is also performed with anger and fury but it shouldn’t. The album version isn’t angry or furious. It’s laid back and has a comfortable bass line that could find a home on a early 70s funk song. It’s soul is more disco than metal. Live, it’s just another song in a set that sounds like one angry variation of a hate anthem after another.
Opener Alice Glass is an interesting choice for a headliner that doesn’t need an opener. The former Crystal Castles singer just released her first solo EP. Other than the art direction, it has very little in common with Manson. Glass’ work is equal parts PC Music and Grimes. It sounds like the present or future of pop music. On paper, it’s a fine pairing, a legacy act championing the future sound. In reality, it was just OK. The drums overpowered the backing vocals. Since it was the first night of tour, it’s reasonable to imagine the kinks will be worked out. Since Glass has one EP under her belt and Manson has a very large catalogue and set, it’s also reasonable to think Glass won’t get ample times for sound checks, especially since there are VIP meet and greet packages that push back start times.
This is not meant to say a Marilyn Manson show in 2017 isn’t fun. It’s a lot of fun. Anger works really well in 2017. His sound is angry. But it could be more. It’s more on record. The artist that released “”President Dead””, “Burning Flag” and “We’re From America” does not need to be enjoying a quiet renaissance. His catalogue and show is proof that he’s relevant. If he just used all of his tools, he could be enjoying a very loud renaissance.